The Choir and Brady Harris Band

The Choir

The Choir “Artifact: The Unreleased Album”

Pop aficionados know The Choir well — the mid-’60s band eventually became the power pop supergroup The Raspberries in the 1970s. The Cleveland mod rockers had a Top 70 hit in the summer of 1967 with “It’s Cold Outside,” which was included on the celebrated 1998 box set Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968.

The band never had a proper album release despite the high powered talent in it, the 1994 album Choir Practice compiled their mid 60’s singles. But this truly “lost” album recorded in 1969, is a fascinating “what if” story. At this point, the band was lead by keyboardist and singer Phil Giallombardo – a founding member of the James Gang, which would later include future Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh. It will please Choir and Raspberries fans alike.

The opener “Anyway I Can”  and “Boris Lament” are pure pop gems in the Left Banke mold. “I Can’t Stay In Your Life” shows the beginnings of the power pop sound, the harmonies, Kieth Moon styled drums and hook-filled riffs. The band at this point has more diverse influences, clearly Procol Harum and Cream amongst them on several tracks. The descending chords and harmonies on “Ladybug” make it another standout. Highly Recommended.

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Brady Harris Band

Brady Harris Band “NoHo Calling”

Texas-bred, Los Angeles based Brady Harris delivered this follow up to his 2016 album NoHo Confidential.  Brady has laid back, slightly lounge lizard approach to rock here. “Let’s Live” has a bouncing bass line that helps guide the melody and the boozy toast “Raise A Glass” uses a county styled shuffle and subtle pedal steel guitar.

The impressive “Better Late Than Never” is a catchy standout with a Beatlesque approach. And a slowed down cover of The Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” is an interesting addition. The Beach Boys-styled backing harmonies on “The Noho Sound” lends some sophistication to this simple acoustic song. I really enjoyed his NSFW song “Old Drunk Motherfuckers” about the worst people you meet in a bar, and his slide guitar ballad “Drain Me” has a nice Lennon-like weariness to it that makes it another standout. Brady’s music is ready-made for late nights over a bottle, so open a cold one and enjoy the cool refreshing taste of NoHo Calling.

Kool Kat Musik

Altered Sweet and Cavetown

Matthew Sweet Tribute

Various Artists “Altered Sweet: A Tribute To Matthew Sweet ”

If there is one thing I know, Futureman records know how to do great tribute albums, and like the Sloan tribute from two years ago, this one is even better. Matthew Sweet has been one of the best examples of an artist who contributes to the genre with his tributes to his influences through the Under The Covers series with Susanna Hoffs. And it’s fitting to finally have other artists honor his influence. Overall, the guest artist list reads like a festival line-up for IPO or Power Popaholic Fest, so the cream of the power pop crop is playing here.

Sweet’s psychedelic jangle suits the lovely Lisa Mychols just fine on the opener “Looking At The Sun,” and the faithful approach works well for Andy Reed on “Where You Get Love,” The Well Wishers “All Over My Head,” and Greg Pope’s “Not When I Need It.” But for me, it was tough to pick out standouts because everyone does such a great job with the songs. Some touches are subtle, like Chris Richards & The Subtractions “Someone To Pull The Trigger” adds a bit of sadness that’s missing in the original or Simple Friend’s acoustic folk version of “Sick Of Myself.” Even the man behind this comp, Keith Klingensmith hits it out of the park on “You Don’t Love Me”

To some, this will be a great introduction to Sweet’s musical genius — hopefully, it spreads the love to fans who enjoy great rock and roll. One of the best tribute albums of 2018 so far.


Cavetown

Cavetown “Lemon Boy”

Cavetown is the brainchild of young UK musician Robin Skinner, and his latest Lemon Boy is essentially a soundtrack that would be perfect for a Wes Anderson flick. Done in DIY acoustic style, its like chamber folk-pop with an emphasis on the emotional and quirky lyrics.

The title track has a flowing easygoing chorus full of obscure references. “Green” is a look back on a lost love, and most of the songs are simple but intimate love-lorn ballads. Standouts include “It’s U,” “Poison,” and “10 Feet Tall.” Robin’s skill in composition and sound mixing is commendable with simple ukulele and double-tracked vocals. Give it chance.

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Rooftop Screamers and Ryan Hamilton & The Traitors

Rooftop Screamers

Rooftop Screamers “Vol.1”

Throwback Suburbia drummer and songwriter Mike Collins gathers a great cabal of pop talent for this pet project. Kyle Vincent sings lead on the opener “Sign Me Up” a dramatic rocker with a ringing guitar hook in the chorus. Not all of these artists are famous names, but they all do a great job singing Collins’ songs.

Geoff Metts cranks up the twang and his grizzled vocal on “Have Mercy” and Ken Stringfellow (The Posies) delivers the wistful ballad “Roses Again.” Andrew Paul Woodworth adds some reverb to the superb “Get Outta Your Way,” full of layered Beatlesque jangle. Kim Wayman’s “Your Ghost” makes great use of spooky slide guitar and her smokey whisper. The remaining tracks don’t hit as high, but come darn close. Highly Recommended.

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Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors

Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors “The Devil’s in the Detail”

Fresh-faced Ryan Hamilton burst on the scene with his impressive “Hell Of A Day” and then recently changed his entire look (George Harrison?) and teamed up with his new band The Traitors for this LP I missed last year. Thankfully, his fast-paced rocking style hasn’t changed much, as “Smarter” chugs along on its heavy riffs, as he’s “a little bit smarter and a whole lot older.”

“We Never Should Have Moved To LA” is a solid story-themed song with a slick sound, and “Anywhere”  utilizes a quick rhyming lyric to contrast the rhythm. “Scottish Mud” turns up the guitars again, with another great hook. The slower songs have a slight country twang to them, “Back In Time” and “Cheaters Never Change” and they are a good break from the hard rockers we heard earlier. Once again, Ryan doesn’t display any filler and other highlights include; “The Gulf of Mexico” and “Strength In Numbers.” A wonderfully balanced album with a profanity-laced rocker hidden at the end. Highly Recommended. And a live EP followed that up. Keep it coming, Ryan!

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The Shellye Valauskas Experience and Anchor & Bear

The Shellye Valauskas Experience

The Shellye Valauskas Experience “History of Panic”

In 1999, power pop veteran Dean Falcone (The Excerpts with Jon Brion) paired up with singer-guitarist Shellye Valauskas. As the Shellye Valauskas Experience, the debut album The History of Panic has been in the works for many years, and it sounds worth the wait. They are aided by Jon Auer (The Posies, Big Star) and drummer Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention, XTC, Nick Drake, Paul McCartney).

The opener “Do Over” is a rich, meticulously multi-layered single anchored by Shellye’s crisp vocal style and some great chord changes. “Gravity” has a sweetly smooth chorus, very much like Aimee Mann but with a lot less detached angst. I could not find a bit of filler here, as the style varies from the bouncy “Cracked Up” to a quiet folky version of Cheap Trick’s “Mandocello.” And the band rocks out on the grand “Leftover Mistake,” one of the best songs here. Highlights include “Cheap Shot” and the final track “Tuck Me In,” which is brimming with good feeling. Highly Recommended.

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Anchor and Bear

Anchor & Bear “Raincoats and Gold”

Remember Paul Starling? Well, this year Paul (aka Brian Bringelson) has paired up with Katy Pearson to form Anchor & Bear. The strong guitars contrast well with Katy’s high tenor on the opener “Hard To Say You’re Sorry.” Next the jangling goodness of “Green Shoe Girl” make it a big highlight here, with its catchy duet and guitar arpeggio. The solid “Singer Out of Work” has Katy doing a deeper vocal, with a descriptive lyric full of contrasts “I’m a lover /I’m a sinner /I’m a straight shot in reverse.”

The music feels along the lines of Belle & Sebastian, with forceful melodies like “Started To Leave” and “Walking Around” which uses some nice Motown-like rhythms. Brian’s introspective solo songs work well like “Words,” but the more dramatic setups like “Here Comes The Night” are less memorable. Some songs just meander around like “Gunfight” without much structure, but when it comes together like on “Blueprints” it’s pretty good. Check it out!

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The Blank Pages and Mark Lane

The Blank Pages

The Blank Pages “Before The Summer Fades”

New Jersey native Greg Potter and bandmates have been making great music for over 25 years. It’s the perspective of middle age that drives the lyric here, “Take The Stage” shows both eager enthusiasm and the trepidation that a band on the stage won’t be playing forever, so leave your mark. “She’s Got The Knack” is a great song with the bouncing melody, with some wonderful guitar work on the edges of the chorus. Blank Pages’ sound is a unique blend of old school (Big Star) and modern pop (Sloan) highlighted by clean harmonies and sharp guitars.

Potter’s self-doubts are put to music on “It Is What It Is” and “Make Up Your Mind.” The jangling guitars are prominent on “High Flyer,” but a lyrical narrative takes a while to reach the chorus. Other themes are about losing friends, lovers, and memories to father time. “That’s Too Bad” has a great Andy Partridge vibe to it. Not everything resonates but most of it does, making it one of The Blank Pages best efforts. Highly Recommended.

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Mark Lane

Mark Lane “New Memory”

It’s been almost five years since LA artist Mark Lane has delivered a new album. Unlike his early works, these are longer and more fleshed out. ”Takin’ That Ride” has a dense 80’s style guitar hook, then the piano-based “Something Grand” is a slow-burning gem with great guitar flourishes like Steely Dan mixed with Harry Nilsson. “After The Comma” keeps this style as it all leads to more brilliant riffs. A more traditional power pop guitar is up-front on “Too Far Into You,” with a steady bass rhythm.

“Greet The Day” is another solid tune that resembles Tom Petty a bit with a sing-along chorus. The stylistic changes here are subtle from song to song but so smooth as not to distract from the listening experience. In an album full of standouts “Bend the Strings” and “Open Road” have an epic folk-rock feel, but overall there is no filler here. Happy to say this is my first top ten album for 2018, so savor it.

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